Jaded's Pub
Yeah, there’s a photo mode

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I’m really digging it. That’s not a huge surprise. I’m not a Lara Croft super-fan but I have enjoyed most of the games and in particular this most recent reboot of the franchise.

So far (I’m guessing I’m about half-way through based on the number of ‘challenge tombs’ I’ve found) it has been a wonderfully varied experience. Sometimes I’m in combat, (which is brutal…if you’re squeamish you might want to skip this one), sometimes I’m solving puzzles, sometimes I’m just wandering through a village digging up lore and chatting with the locals. The pacing is great for me; I’ve yet to hit a point where I’m thinking “OK let’s move on from this.” At least not so far.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into the gameplay since, well, it’s not a new game and I haven’t finished it anyway, but I did want to heap praise on the developers for the settings. First, on the Xbox One X (and I imagine PS4 Pro) you can choose Performance or Resolution options. It’s always nice when we users get to choose how a game uses the extra horsepower of these mid-generation upgrade consoles.

When in Paititi…

Beyond that, there are three different difficulty settings: one for puzzles, one for combat, one for exploration. So if you hate puzzles but love combat, maybe you make the puzzles easier and the combat harder. Whatever you like; tailor the game to your play style. [Disclaimer: I left everything on the Normal difficult levels.] Second, there’s a camera bob setting. Sometimes 3rd person action games that take place in narrow passages can make me a little woozy since you’re always swinging the camera around to look for hidden secrets. SotTR was doing that until I noticed an option to turn off the camera bob. It was like having a VR comfort setting in a non-VR game. Super appreciated, thank you devs!

So I’m REALLY enjoying myself. What has me feeling a little guilty is, I’m playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider via Game Pass. If you’re unaware, Game Pass is Microsoft’s subscription service for games. You pay a monthly fee and can play any of a broad selection of games (I think there are about 175 in the library now). I bought my Game Pass subscription during a Black Friday sale and loaded up a year’s worth for time for the price of a new game.

Lara was a handful even when she was a child

When Shadow of the Tomb Raider came out I knew I wanted to play it but the release schedule was so crammed at the time I gave it a pass. Now I kind of wish I’d purchased it back then, because I have this old-fashioned notion of supporting things you enjoy (a notion that often competes with the modern notion of “Oh hey, the rent is due.”). Square Enix is apparently not having a great year; maybe if I’d purchased SotTR at full price it would’ve turned them around! [No, my ego is not REALLY that big.]

I mean, it’s not my fault that the gaming industry has created a “race to the bottom” environment for game prices. But still…feeling a tad guilty. Maybe I’ll buy the Season Pass.

For three+ decades I was primarily a computer gamer (I say “computer” rather than “PC” since the first machine I gamed on was an Atari 400). Then I abruptly made the switch to pretty much exclusively console gaming for half a decade or so. Recently I switched back again and for a few months the consoles sat idle as I re-immersed myself in PC game.

My gaming pendulum has now settled into a happy medium and I find for me, some experiences are best on PC, others best on console. I thought I’d share some of my findings. As you read this, please understand all of this is what works FOR ME. Some PC gamers can get prickly whenever someone prefers consoles, for some reason.

I’ve found that I enjoy single player AAA titles more on console. Yeah, the PC can play them at higher graphics settings but for me that’s the only advantage PCs have for these games. I find that playing on console I get more out of these games. There are fewer distractions and I tend to play for longer sessions which also helps with immersion (and greatly increases the chance I’ll actually FINISH a game).

On the PC I’m constantly distracting myself with FOMO around Twitter or Discord. I run with 2 monitors and always have social media up on monitor two and constantly scan it. Because of this I just don’t “sink in” to a game quite as much; my attention is always divided.

Perfect example, this weekend I was playing Far Cry New Dawn on PC, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider on Xbox. I actually spent more time working “around” New Dawn than playing it; mostly tweaking graphics settings to try to maximize frame rate in between jumping over to social media to see what else was going on. Over the course of the weekend I finally made it out of the tutorial. Contrast that with Tomb Raider on Xbox, however, where I got about 25% of the way through the game because I’d boot it up, start playing and keep playing, focusing just on the game.

This “single player is better on console” rule breaks down for older games. Older single player games are better on PC because of mods. If a game is good enough to still be worth playing 5-10 years after release, the community has probably modded it to make it better than it was at launch. Example: Vampire the Masquerade is STILL being patched by the community on PC, LONG after the developers walked away from it.

Then there are indie/niche games. The PC excels here. Sure there are some indie games on console but not nearly as many as on PC and whole genres (the various “Simulator” games) are virtually non-existent on consoles.

While we have some MMOs on console, I feel like they are best experienced on PC thanks to everyone having a keyboard at hand. There are console MMOs with text-chat support but balancing a keyboard on your lap while playing from the couch isn’t ideal.

MP games like The Division 2 or Anthem are a tougher call. I still can’t decide where I like them best. On PC I get a higher frame rate and (for TD2 anyway) text chat, but on consoles I tend to play them for longer sessions without getting distracted so often advance quicker. In this category I NEED to make a decision though, because I can’t afford to keep buying two copies of this kind of game!

I don’t really play a lot of strategy games these days, but if I did I’d play them on PC. I am very comfortable using a controller, but when you’ve got a ton of boxes, buttons and units to click on or select, mouse and keyboard is the way to go.

Driving games, though.. console for me. There’s something about lounging back on the couch driving around that just feels right. I wish to heck Euro Truck Simulator would come to console!

Anyway, no real point to this post other than to talk about how happy I am where my “gaming life” is right now. It’s nice to have the choice of where to play and what to play. Heck I didn’t even touch on the Switch and what works best for me on handheld. That’s another post, I guess.

I’m old. We didn’t have video games when I was a kid. Instead we’d play board games. Monopoly, Risk, Mille Bornes. Stuff like that. When I was alone I’d play wargames, the old paper map and cardboard chit kind. (Yes, I’d have to play both sides, but I made do.)

All of this was fun. I loved games then, I still love games today.

Somewhere along the way, though, I started to require something more from games in order to feel satisfied by them. Some reward. Just playing isn’t enough. It might be gaining levels or earning loot. It might be unlocking Achievements.

I don’t like this about myself very much.

A few things have me pondering this aspect of gaming. First is Anthem. Now for me Anthem is kind of the exception. I have SO much fun just flying around the world blowing shit up that I don’t pay attention to levels or loot. I’m just having fun. Many people, however, seem really upset right now because they don’t get enough loot when they play. The general upshot is “If I’m not getting good loot, I’m just wasting my time.” In effect they are saying there is no value in the actual playing of the game, just in the rewards for having played.

Next, I gave the turn-based Battletech a shot over the weekend (there was a free-play weekend on Steam). Started a campaign, played the first mission for 30 minutes or so, and lost. “Damn, what a waste of time!” I thought. That I was having fun for that 30 minutes didn’t figure into my immediate reaction. I didn’t even think about how sad that was until hours later.

I used to play a LOT of strategy games, and if I could beat them the first time I played I would be kind of upset. I played them for the challenge of trying to beat the AI and that was enough. I didn’t need to get a “Legendary Item” when I’d won a battle. My reward was the satisfaction of winning and having had fun playing. (And of course the chance to start another game.) Now apparently losing a mission means the game sucks?

It has gotten so bad with me that even after I got my new PC gaming rig going, I still tend to play on the consoles. There are a few legit reasons for this, but one big stupid reason is “Achievements.” I don’t have a “gamerscore” to track my progress on PC so I am not getting “rewarded” for playing. It’s the same reason I don’t play the Switch much; I’m not getting a pat on the back because I beat a level or whatever.

I would like to “fix” this about myself. (I would like to fix it with regards to the entire gaming community but I realize that’s beyond my abilities.) I would like to go back to playing games just because I’m enjoying playing them, and not because I’m chasing a tiny dopamine hit when I get a good loot drop. I’m not sure how to un-train myself, though.

What makes it even harder is that so many aspects of life are “gamified” these days. Heck the fact that “gamify” just means “bolt on a progression system” feels like a huge part of the problem.

I think the board-gaming community is my only hope. They still play for the enjoyment of playing, and not for phat loot or cheevos. At least, I think that is the case. Maybe I need to break out the paper maps and cardboard counters once again.

First a recap, very briefly. I needed a new laptop at the same time I was suffering from FOMO around my friends playing PC games together. So after a few sidetracks that didn’t pan out, I decided to blow the budget and bought a gaming laptop.

Zowie XL2411P

My last update was when I ran a wired Ethernet connection (since it is in a corner of the apartment with poor WiFi reception) to the laptop and confirmed that Parsec worked great. Since then I decided that a 1080P 15″ screen is just a little too small for me for gaming (keep in mind I’m nearly 60 and my eyes are getting worse all the time) so I added a 24″ 144hz 1080P monitor. I capped at 1080P because the GPU in the laptop (a GTX 1070 Max-Q) can only do so much. I’d rather higher settings at 1080P than mid-settings at 1440. I think 4K is out of the question for this GPU.

As I started using it more, it became a bit of an issue having to use headphones all the time. It’s hard to chat with Angela wearing headphones. So I bought a little USB-powered soundbar to go with the monitor since the monitor has no speakers

GoGroove Mini SoundBar

Of course with no headphones I started to really notice the sound of the fans, so I bought a USB-powered cooling pad to see if I could quiet it a little (it worked, somewhat).

Then I bought a powerstrip with USB charging ports so I could power soundbar and cooling pad without drawing more power from the laptop. And a non-powered USB hub just to try to neaten things up.

It was about this point that I realized I should’ve bought a desktop gaming PC AND a modest laptop because right now this laptop sits in a nest of cables and cords that just seems kind of silly. I mean, it works great but to take it somewhere I have to disconnect the external drive, the USB hub, the displayport cable, the Ethernet cable and the power cable.

Just a few cables to detach before I go mobile.
Also how does the camera always pick up so much dust that my old eyes can’t see?
I can sure see it in the photo!

When I have some ‘play money’ built up again I’m going to look at one of those Thunderbolt docking stations, but they’re like $300 so that might be awhile. In theory with one of those I’d just have the power cable and the docking station attached to the laptop. Much easier to grab and go that way.

And then danged Nvidia put the Nvidia Shield TV on sale and I made an impulse buy. And y’know what? That has pulled everything together perfectly. The Shield TV is mostly a media streaming box like the Fire TV or Apple TV, but it has a few gaming features. One of them is GameStream which offers in-home streaming. Alternatively you can run the Parsec Android client on it.

Nvidia Shield Gaming Edition

So far GameStream has been working well. I can now stream from the laptop to the 60″ TV in the living room. So far I’m only using it for games I play with a controller since if I have to drag out keyboard and mouse I may as well go sit at the desk.

This weekend I was playing Anthem like this. It was running on the laptop in a corner of the kitchen but I was in the living room on the couch with a warm puppy laying beside me and it ran perfectly. GameStream has a virtual mouse feature if you need to just click one or two buttons. In fact it has a virtual keyboard too but I wouldn’t want to do much typing with it. The only thing I haven’t sorted is a way to voice chat while doing GameStream but if I’m going to be doing MP I’d probably sit at the laptop in order to be at my best anyway. Streaming is for more casual gaming. I’ve been playing a lot of My Time At Portia by streaming this way.

Nvidia Shield also supports GeForce Now, which is a cloud-streaming game service. I tested it a bit and it seems to work fine, but for right now I have enough ‘local’ stuff to play.

I’m really content with how I have things set up now. It’s a good thing I do since I’ve really blown through my ‘mad money’ for the time being. Thankfully tax refund season is upon us so can build the piggy bank back up!

In Fort Tarsis Anthem is single player 1st person

You’re probably going to be reading a lot of blog posts and seeing a lot of YouTube videos about technical issues with the Anthem Demo. That’s not what this post is. I generally had a good experience (a few glitches here and there) and I was playing the demo more to get a feel of what the gameplay loop would feel like. I’m also going to assume you know what Anthem is since it’s hard to avoid seeing articles about it these days.

All I’ll say about the technical stuff is, Bioware seems to be owning it and is communicating about it while fixing things. I’m glad these issues are being uncovered now instead of at launch.

Personally, I’m having a blast with the demo and I can’t wait to get my hands on the full game. I’m not sure how ‘hardcore’ Anthem is going to be but I’m not hardcore. A casual-friendly game where I can fly around in an exo-suit and explore and harvest and fight is just fine with me. In fact it is ideal.

The Bioward Codex returns only this time it’s called the Cortex

I’ve been jumping between Xbox One X and PC, and on PC between mouse and keyboard and controller. For me, controller is the way to play. Flying with the controller feels intuitive and fun while I keep flying into walls using the keyboard. Probably just takes practice. If you play I would urge you to wear headphones because the soundscape in this game is amazing. The “whomf!’ of your suit’s jets when you dash really adds to the experience and headphones convey it best.

So far I think my favorite way to play is on PC with controller but streamed to the Shield and the 60″ TV, though that only works for solo/PUG stuff since I don’t have a voice channel playing like that.

There are a few interesting design decisions that Bioware made that I wanted to highlight. First, while you’re out in the world, you don’t see the experience you’ve acquired and when you get loot all you can see is what rarity it is. It is only when you get back to base that you’ll find out what you’ve earned in that mission. Bioware made this decision to help with the pacing of MP; basically they wanted to help the ‘flow’ of the mission by removing a reason for players to stop and rummage through their inventory every time they got a drop. I’m fine with this decision but have seen some folks who are frustrated by it.

Sweet, sweet loot

The second decision I’m less sure about. You don’t get experience from randomly killing stuff. You get experience from accomplishing goals and earning Feats. Feats can and often are connected to combat — stuff like “Shoot 20 enemies in their Weak Spot” — but you can only earn a Feat once per “Expedition” (which is a catch-all phrase for any thing that takes you out into the world).

I’m unsure about this system because Bioware has built this huge world that is positively crawling with dangerous enemies, but there’s no real reason to fight them (remember, you can fly away from anything). The ‘smart’ way to play is to just fly past everything to your objective and fight only what you need to fight. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s just not my personal ideal way to play a game. I love roaming around ‘grinding’ experience by fighting random things. So we’ll see.

I know Bioware is most known for its single player game and the company has said that Anthem can be completed solo. I did try this out. It’s a little weird because you have to set your session to Private in order to solo a mission, but when you do the game scolds you, telling you Anthem is best played Multiplayer. After you insist that yes, you really DO want to play Solo you can. I personally found Normal difficulty tough but do-able Solo (the Demo is fairly early in the game, I should point out, you start at level 10) and am happy to report Easy difficulty is, well, Easy to solo.

Anyway I’ve been looking forward to Anthem for a long time and I’m happy to say the demo just has me even more excited. I feel like this is going to be one those games that I play a bunch at launch, then return to whenever a big content update drops. That’s kind of my pattern with Destiny and The Division and I feel like Anthem is going to go into the same ‘bucket’ as those games. Can’t wait for launch!

It worked! Yesterday afternoon my 50′ Ethernet cable was delivered so now the laptop in the kitchen has a wired connection. (Today’s project, routing it along baseboards and such… right now it is just laying on the floor. LOL)

I installed Parsec and started streaming World of Warcraft from the upstairs machine and almost instantly forgot it was streaming. For all practical purposes it may as well have been running on the local machine. From here on out older games and games that aren’t graphically demanding will get installed upstairs, and the precious space on the laptop will be reserved for new graphically intense games like Anthem or The Division 2.

Two tiny issues. When you connect to the host, Parsec mutes the host, which is a good thing, but when you adjust the volume on the local machine it also seems to adjust it on the host and in doing so seems to unmute it. This is more a problem for Angela than for me since she is usually up there in the office and has to re-mute the host.

[Update: Sometimes the simplest solutions elude me. I’ve just started turning off the speakers on the host machine when I’m not using them. Problem solved!]

Second, if I get to where I want to do voice chat with a game installed on the host I’ll have to figure that out. I guess you connect to Discord (or whatever) on the local machine and then connect to the host for the game, but I’m wondering what happens if you need to adjust levels or anything like that. Not sure this will ever even become an issue but it’s something to puzzle out.

All in all, though, I’m super happy and can’t recommend Parsecgaming highly enough, if you’re in the market for something like this. Forget Steam In-Home streaming. Just use Parsec.

So after my semi-failed experiment in streaming games from my old machine upstairs to the entertainment center downstairs I thought I was done with PC gaming once again.

Then I had to buy a laptop. See, “my” laptop was actually provided by the company I worked for. They got bought and I thought I’d sort-of inherited the laptop but nope, last week I was told I needed to return it. I really wanted a laptop for ‘downstairs use’ so I started shopping. And then I got a crazy idea, and expanded my shopping horizons to include gaming laptops. Thanks to advice from Stargrace I wound up with an MSI, specifically the GS65 Stealth Thin.

This was the dumbest possible time to buy a new laptop since CES just happened and Nvidia announced the RTX chipset and all that but I’ve never been known to have a shred of patience.

After getting over some sticker-shock induced buyer’s remorse, I’m pretty happy with the machine except for the puny SSD drive inside (512 GB). I’d read that there is a 2nd SSD slot so figured I’d just install an additional TB drive, but didn’t research things thoroughly enough. To get to that slot you have to basically take the entire laptop apart, voiding the warranty, AND a TB SSD drive is $200-$250 and honestly I’ve spent enough for now. But I have a plan.

I skipped the whole ‘hook it to the TV’ idea and set up a desk in the corner of the kitchen devoted to PC gaming. Then I connected a 3 TB external drive and installed Steam on the external drive. I figure I’ll put most of my games on the external drive since I’ll be playing them seated at the desk with external mouse (and eventually bigger monitor) anyway, and I can just disconnect that drive when I just want a laptop to sit on the couch and do Internet stuff. Thanks to the machine having USB 3.1 ports, and the external drive also supporting USB 3, the access speed doesn’t seem to be a huge problem. ~knock on wood~ Eventually I might upgrade to an SSD Thunderbolt external but again, the cost of the laptop has definitely used up my “fun money” for the time being.

But then an even BETTER idea hit me. My machine upstairs can play older games and indie-type games, perfectly well, and it has plenty of drive space. I can still put Parsec streaming to use. I can stream older games from the upstairs PC and just install the latest or least input-lag sensitive games on the laptop itself. I haven’t tried this yet since I’m waiting for a 50′ ribbon Ethernet cable to run a hard line to the kitchen (Wi-Fi is a little dodgy in there) and then I’ll put it to the test.

My hope is that by the time this gaming laptop gets long in the tooth one or more of the various cloud-streaming services will have things working well enough that this can be my last GPU purchase, but we’ll see. The laptop has the GTX 1070 MAX-Q or something like that. QMAX? Anyway, not as fast as a proper 1070 but the display is 1080P and it seems fast enough to run today’s games at High or Ultra settings and still get 60 FPS. I wouldn’t try to drive a 4K display with this machine, though. Basically it was the best mobile GPU I could afford, and it’s why the hard drive is so small. For a similar price I could’ve got a 1060 MAX-Q and a 1 TB drive but I figured the GPU was more important.

One last obstacle. Whenever I’m sitting at the desk playing games, Lola is on the couch looking very confused and upset that I’m not over there with her. So next step is to get a doggie bed to put next to the desk. 🙂

For most of my gaming life I was a computer gamer as opposed to a console gamer. The first system I owned that could play games was an Atari 400 which I got in 1980 or so, and the first console I bought was a Turbografx-16 in 1989. For a long time consoles were the ‘side project’ and PC gaming was my focus. In addition to playing games I loved building and tinkering with PCs.

As I got older the appeal of PC tinkering faded while at the same time consoles got more powerful and started to get more and more attention from developers. I went longer and longer between PC upgrades and spent more time on consoles. Then I started working from home full time, and that was the final nail in my PC gaming coffin. See, we live in a 2 bedroom apartment. One bedroom is our office and I sit there all day every day working. It is (obviously) where the PC is. When the work day is done, I HAVE to get out of there for my mental health. When you work from home full-time you need routines to help your brain flip over to work mode in the morning and turn off work mode in the evening.

So for the last 5 or so years, at least, I’ve played almost no PC games. Problem is, almost all of my online friends are still over there in the PC world. I’ve tried to find a ‘tribe’ of older console gamers but haven’t had much luck. Every so often I try to combine the best of both worlds and bring PC gaming out of the office and into the living room. So far I’ve always failed.

My most recent attempt began when Belghast mentioned ParsecGaming. You’re probably aware of Steam in-home streaming and the Steam Link system, right? It’s a way to stream games from the PC in your office to the TV in your living room. I’d tried Steam in-home streaming a few times but always found it was more fiddly than it was worth. It turns out Parsec does the same thing, except it works. Parsec actually does a lot more than that; you can stream games from a friend’s house or enable virtual-couch-co-op with far away friends. I can’t speak to those features since I was only interested in office->living room.

Setting it up was dead simple. You install Parsec on both systems and enable sharing on your ‘host’ PC then connect from your remote PC. In my case my remote was a laptop. Even on 5 Ghz wireless it worked pretty well and it gives you full access to the host machine, so if a game needed something tweaked I could do it from the remote client rather than running upstairs to click a UAC “accept” button or something. After playing through a Warframe mission without any serious issues I thought my problem was solved!

Of course laptop on the coffee table isn’t the living room experience I was looking for; I wanted the games on the 60″ 4K TV. This simple idea led me down a rat hole as it seems my Samsung Smart TV is pretty persnickety about having a PC hooked up to it. First I tried connecting through a 3-way HDMI splitter and it was no-go. I bought a higher-end HDMI switch rated for 60Hz and UHD. Still no good. Bought some certified high-speed HDMI cables. Still no good. If I connected direct to the TV it (apparently) worked, so finally I just decided to devote an HDMI port to the PC and it worked…for a few moments. Then the signal started dropping out.

At first I thought it was playing games through Parsec which was causing the dropouts. Or maybe just games in general for some reason (but with this laptop I couldn’t test that since it won’t run games on its own). But long story cut a slight bit, it was a timing thing. It ran fine for a while but even if I didn’t connect to Parsec eventually it started glitching. After trying a bunch of stuff I finally got a system that worked. Turn off UHD Color for that HDMI port. Turn off the TV and the laptop. Turn on the TV, then the laptop. Then I had a steady signal, but I had to do that start up sequence every time, which wasn’t ideal (waking the laptop from sleep wasn’t enough, I had to power it off and on again).

Still it worked! Now I had a wired ethernet connection to the laptop in the entertainment center and a wireless keyboard and mouse over at the couch. I bought the $25 Windows Wireless Adapter for an Xbox Controller (which I later found out I might not have needed; newer Xbox controllers can apparently connect to Windows 10 via Bluetooth). I sat back on the couch and… no, wait I couldn’t sit back, I had to perch on the edge of the couch to use the peripherals on the coffee table.

But it worked! I did another test Warframe mission. Success! Played some of Tom Clancy’s The Division. Success! Except…I have those games on console and frankly my Xbox One X is more powerful than my aging PC up in the office, AND there is some input lag using Parsec. Or maybe it is the PC itself. It’s small and I might not have even noticed if I hadn’t been playing these games on the consoles, but they just felt a tad sluggish while streaming them from the PC.

But what about other kinds of games, like MMOs and strategy games? In a fit of nostalgia I d/led World of Warcraft and tried to play that. It worked fine except a lot of the text I couldn’t read from across the room. Ditto strategy games; most of them just haven’t been crafted with the intention of being usable from 10′ away. It isn’t that I absolutely can’t read stuff, but that I have to really concentrate to read them, which isn’t ideal in a gaming environment when you want to be able to glance at a UI component and understand what it is telling you.

So, that was kind of the end of this attempt. In order to play “action games” I’d need to upgrade my PC significantly which I don’t really have the money or the patience for right now. Text-heavy games don’t work great on the TV so they’re out. It isn’t all bad news though. I can still stream MMOs and strategy games to the laptop with it sitting on the coffee table.

I have a desk in the corner of the kitchen that I’m not doing much with, but WiFi reception there is pretty crummy. So now I’m thinking of getting a 50′ Ethernet cable (cheaper than a Wifi extender and more reliable once it is in place) and running it from the entertainment center into the kitchen so I have a wired connection there. I think using the laptop would be more comfortable on a desk than on our low coffee table. And then I was thinking…maybe I just buy a new gaming PC and install it at that desk in the kitchen and give up on the streaming idea.

Or, crazier idea, subscribe to Shadow.tech and get a virtual gaming PC for about $30/month, at least to start with, just to see if the PC gaming itch ‘sticks’. $30/month is high but better to do that for 2-3 months and then get bored, rather than spending $1500 and getting bored after 2-3 months.

Decisions, decisions….

For the last few months I’ve been really down on social media. I found that too often spending time on the various services wound up depressing me rather than being a positive experience, so I vowed to give it up. I checked-out of Discords (where I’d been most active), stopped logging in to Facebook, vowed to never read comments on articles and avoided Reddit. Twitter was the only network I stayed active on and I tried to do my best to pull away from that.

At first I felt great. I had a lot more free time and felt a lot less stressed. I became an anti social-media zealot, telling anyone who would listen that it was toxic.

Except there was one catch. Without social media, there really was no one who would, or could, listen. As time went by I started to feel cut off and kind of lonely.

See, I’m more or less a recluse, by circumstance rather than design. I work from home, 100%. I don’t make friends easily and since moving to North Carolina really haven’t made any. I have Angela of course and she is terrific but other than her I can go days without talking to another human being (depending on how many work meetings are happening at the time). Since I work and she doesn’t, her job is to do the shopping and run errands so I never really have reason to go anywhere. I walk the dog, of course, but in the winter it’s generally dark and we don’t run into other dogs and their people as much as we do in spring/summer/fall.

Anyway, point is without any social media I was feeling really isolated. So I’m re-thinking my plan.

In 2018, I tried, with modest success, not to engage in topics that frustrate/annoy/sadden me. And by “engage” I mean that literally. I wrote plenty of irate responses but never hit “send” on them. I wasn’t 100% successful with this but I feel like I did OK about it.

In 2019 my goal is to try to find a way to just let these topics slide past me without them bothering me. Because I was bothered in 2018, I just didn’t get into arguments about things. I still felt down about them, which is where my ‘toxic social media’ feelings were coming from. I’m just not quite sure how to accomplish this “let things slide” idea.

In the past week or two I’ve tried to be more chatty on Twitter and tried to engage people on topics that I take delight in. Suddenly Twitter is becoming a source of pleasure again. Maybe it’s just a matter of having more good stuff than annoying stuff in my timeline?

I mean, I don’t want to seem like I’m sticking my head in the sand here, but the things that used to get me riled up were often really trivial. I’m cautious about giving an example because I don’t want to start a debate since that kind of defeats the purpose, but here is one that I don’t think I saw any of my friends said.

There was a thought circulating before the holiday that said something like “If you’re depressed and alone this year, don’t worry, things WILL get better.” So that seems like a positive message to a lot of people I guess. To me it just seems dismissive. You (random person who sent this) can’t know what the situation of the person reading your message is. Maybe they’re losing a battle with cancer. Maybe they’re older and have been watching friends and relatives die off. At some point in life, things will probably NOT get better. Mostly I think my problem with this ties into ageism (an issue I’m getting more and more passionate about). Young people think everyone has all the time in the world and it isn’t so.

Anyway, not to go into a long rant about that. My point was, I didn’t engage in any of these discussions because I KNOW that the people saying this were trying to be kind and positive, so what benefit could come from me going after them? But it did get to me. In 2019 I need to learn to just let stuff like this wash over me and not get me riled.

If I can do that, I think I can use social media as a way to feel more connected to other people. I still need to find “my tribe” but that’s a topic for another post.

Lately I’ve been playing (and very much enjoying) a lot of Forza Horizon 4. I’m something like level 114 and most of that has come from just messing about for hours and hours rather than really chasing concrete goals or getting serious about the racing.

This weekend on Xbox, there’s a “Free Play” weekend for another racing game, The Crew 2, so I thought I’d try it out. It didn’t take long for me to decide that FH4 was a better game for me, but it took me a bit to understand why.

Yes, the driving controls in FH4 are better (IMO) but The Crew 2 has planes and boats, both of which I found pretty fun. My immediate reaction after a few plane and boat races was that I might purchase the game, but over the course of a couple hours I felt less and less inclination to do so.

That was because of the NPCs. Both games are very “lite” on story, but both do have NPCs here and there. I hate The Crew 2’s NPCs and their values/drives. (Am I reading too much into this?) They’re always gabbing on about social media and getting more followers and in general being “extreme” and in my head I’m always muttering “fuck social media and fuck you.” This isn’t just ‘flavor’ because to advance you need to attract more followers.

FH4’s NPCs are kind of bland and barely there, to be honest. Most of the time it’s you in the car listening to the radio and a DJ. The DJs have their own personalities but if one is bugging you, you can just change the station (or turn off the in-game radio and listen to your own music via Spotify or something).

Maybe not the best shot to illustrate The Crew 2 but it’s the only one I captured!

It took a nice long walk in a foggy drizzle for me to realize this was what was bugging me about The Crew 2. It just feels like Ubisoft is aiming their game squarely at an audience that isn’t me. This probably makes the game more interesting if you’re in their target audience, but less interesting if you aren’t. (BTW, I’m the guy that’ll stop playing a FPS if during the tutorial level there’s a Drill Sargent screaming at me and calling me a maggot. I’m The Thin Skinned Gamer.)

I could also imagine some players find FH4 too bland in terms of the ‘stuff other than driving’ experience but frankly I prefer bland to annoying when we talking about auxiliary content. The really dumb thing is, if The Crew 2 just talked about getting “fans” I probably wouldn’t mind it. I’m just sick to death of having social media being shoved down my throat all the time (it’s bad enough in the real world, I don’t want it in my escapist video game fantasies as well).

So yeah, my march into the dark heart of curmudgeon-dom continues… I’m really glad I’m not a game designer who has to try and please me. Thing is, though, there are SO MANY great games available these days that we gamers can afford to be really picky about which ones we like, y’know?